As we broke fast this year, my family commented on the light meal I was serving and wanted to know where was the kugel and the salmon mousse and the cranberry walnut cake and bagels and lox and frittata and more. I had forewarned them that this year was going to be even lighter fare than last year, that we were “downsizing” the break fast so that no one would feel distressed or uncomfortable at 9 pm.
I did make a simple apple cake for dessert and there was my signature zucchini leek soup and whole wheat challah and plenty of food, but not the foods that my family has expected for years and years.
We ended the meal with tea, not coffee, and lots of water flavored with slices of orange, lemon and lime. Everyone felt good, ate well and then, in typical Jewish-mother- guilt fashion, I promised a full blown appetizer meal in the near future.
That “appetizer” meal hearkens back to the beginnings of the 20th century when stores such as Russ and Daughters in New York and the G&G on Blue Hill Avenue in Boston sold hand-sliced lox, kippered herrings, sable, whitefish salad and so much more. Bagels, a mainstay of Jewish culinary habits, had come from the old country in the late 1800s and cream cheese added to the mix of foods. Blintzes and sweet, cream-cheesy kugels also adorned tables on “appetizer” night meals.
By the time the Jews had migrated to the suburbs, the appetizing store became a distant destination, a place to visit for holidays and special events. And all too soon, it was but a memory of delicacies that would never again be had in quite the same way.
Machine cut, pre-packaged lox replaced the paper-thin slices cut by the talented people who had learned the art of wielding a long, razor sharp knife to produce those delicate slices. Whole white fish and kippered herrings and sable and more were harder to find in the untamed suburban lands until there was a critical mass of Jews, hungry for appetizers, in numbers large enough to support a kosher deli here and there.
When women went back to work, Sunday night meals became light, leftover fare. The elaborate dairy meals with all kinds of smoked fish unwrapped from layers of thin, glass like paper and then waxed paper and finally white paper taped with the weight and price stickers, became infrequent Sunday brunches, a time when more people could gather and eat a leisurely meal.
So I promised them a special meal, an “appetizer” meal as my grandparents called it. I will fulfill that promise and remember those Sunday nights in my house and my grandparent’s homes.
Smoked Salmon Bisque (Dairy)
1/2 stick butter
1 cup chopped leeks, white part and light green only
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 sprig thyme (optional)
2 to 4 ounces smoked salmon, to taste
3 cups water
1-1/2 pounds salmon filet, skinned, cut into large pieces
1/2 cup cream sherry or Marsala
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
3 ounces tomato paste
*2 cups heavy cream
*2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. water
Kosher salt to taste
1 tsp. to 1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, leaves only
*You can use up to 4 cups of cream, medium or even half and half. The more cream, the richer the bisque. I use all half and half, but heavy cream makes for a decadent and rich, once-a-year delight.
Heat a large stockpot and add the butter. When melted, add the leeks and onions and stir to coat. Simmer until completely softened and lightly golden, adding a bit of canola oil, if needed. Add the celery and carrot and sauté until softened. Add the thyme, if using. Add the smoked salmon and cook until opaque.
Add the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the salmon and simmer until the salmon is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.
Remove the salmon with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl.
Use an immersion blended and blend the vegetables until smooth. Add the tomato paste and the cream sherry and use the immersion blender again until smooth.
Add the saffron and mix well.
Reduce the heat and add the cream and milk. Whisk to blend and bring to a very low simmer.
Whisk the cornstarch with 2 teaspoons of water and whisk into the bisque. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes, whisking often to keep smooth.
Break up the salmon into bite-sized pieces, add to the soup and season with the pepper and salt, to taste.
Garnish with fresh parsley. Makes about 7 cups.
Veggie Cream Cheese Spread
My mother used to make a version of this that required draining the cream cheese in a cheesecloth over a bowl overnight. This is easier and much more delicious.
1 pound brick style cream cheese
1 cup thinly sliced scallions or chives
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced purple onion
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced carrots
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber, seeds removed
1/4 cup finely diced radishes
1 tsp to 1 tbsp. finely minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Soften the cream cheese and place in a large bowl. Add the vegetables and mix well using a large fork or spoon.Scrape into a serving bowl and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed. Garnish with pieces of the veggies in the spread and some parsley. Makes enough for a crowd.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Apricots and Prunes (Dairy)
This old family recipe is still requested frequently.
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. white sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (You can use all butter and omit this)
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups unbleached flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup finely snipped dried apricots (gently packed)
3/4 cup finely snipped pitted prunes (gently packed)
2 tbsp. flour
Combine the topping ingredients and set aside.
Combine the snipped (I use a pair of small kitchen scissors for this and snip each apricot and prune into about 5-7 pieces) apricots and prunes. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of flour. Toss to coat evenly and set aside.
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and soda in a large bowl and set aside. Place butter, shortening and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each. Add flour mixture alternating with the sour cream beginning and ending with the flour. Add vanilla and beat well. Remove bowl from the stand and fold in the fruit.
Grease and flour a tube pan, line the sides with waxed paper and grease the waxed paper. Pour half the batter into the pan. Spoon half the crumb mixture onto the batter and spoon the remaining batter over the crumbs. Spoon the rest of the crumbs over the batter and gently press into place. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove the tube insert and cake to a plate. Let cool completely and, either loosen the cake from the tube and place on a serving platter or serve as is. Serves 10-12.